A 23-year-old Louisiana man has been named as a person of interest in the fatal shootings of two black men in Baton Rouge, and police say the random killings might have been “racially motivated.”
Kenneth Gleason was arrested Sunday on unrelated drug charges after police served a search warrant at his home, The Advocate newspaper reports.
Gleason is a suspect in the deaths of Bruce Cofield, 59, and Donald Smart, 49, who were shot last week in separate incidents, the newspaper reports. Gleason has been questioned in connection to both killings, but investigators do not yet have enough evidence to charge him with murder, Baton Rouge Police Sergeant L’Jean McKneely told The Associated Press.
McKneely told The Associated Press that detectives have collected evidence connecting Gleason to the shootings. He added, “There is a strong possibility that it could be racially motivated,” but did not go into specifics about why investigators believe that could be the case. Police determined the two shootings were connected last week through a national ballistics database, The Advocate reports. It is not clear if any other unsolved homicides could be linked to the two shootings.
Here’s what we know so far:
1. Bruce Cofield, Who Was Homeless & ‘Didn’t Bother Anyone,’ Was Shot to Death Tuesday, While Smart Was Gunned Down While Walking to Work 2 Days Later
The first shooting occurred on Tuesday, September 12, on Florida Boulevard, Baton Rouge Police said. According to The Advocate, the shooting happened about 10:30 p.m. near North Acadian Thruway. Markia Johnson, who lives nearby, told the newspaper that she heard 12 shots, six in rapid succession, then a pause, and six more shots.
Johnson told the newspaper that the victim, 59-year-old Bruce Cofield, was homeless and known in the neighborhood as “Mr. Bruce.” She had recently bought him some food and gave him some money after talking with him. He often held a sign in the intersection near where he was shot.
“The man didn’t bother anyone, not to get shot like that,” Johnson told The Advocate last week. “It’s senseless.”
Two days later and less than five miles away, Donald Smart, 49, was shot to death while walking to work, according to police. Smart was headed to his job as a dishwasher at Louie’s Cafe, The Advocate reports. He had worked at the restaurant, a 24-hour cafe popular with LSU students, for 20 years.
“I’ve seen 26 years of folks washing dishes in a busy diner and this guy is untouchable,” Fred Simonson, the restaurant’s general manager, told the newspaper. “When you have an employee like Donald, he’s the type of person who’s going to make the person next to him better.”
“This is a tragedy. … this is wrong,” Simonson told The Advocate. “This should not have happened.”
Smart was killed about 11 p.m. Thursday, September 14, on Alaska Street, police said.
“The before and after of Donald goes from, ‘What are we going to do tonight?’ to ‘Smooth sailing,’” Simonson told the newspaper. “You didn’t have to motivate Donald, Donald motivated you. What Donald means to me as a person and Louie’s as an institution is not quantifiable. It’s not measurable. .. Hopefully they can get some justice, some closure.”
2. The Shootings & Word Police Were Hunting for a White Male With a ‘Military Style Haircut’ Sparked Fears of a Serial Killer Targeting Black Men
Fears circulated among Baton Rouge residents last week after word spread that police were hunting for a white male with a “military style haircut” possibly wearing a tactical vest in connection to the two random fatal shootings, according to The Rouge Collection. Residents said they were afraid there was a white serial killer on the loose targeting black men, according to the website.
The Advocate newspaper reported Friday, citing police sources, that there was an “all-out hunt” underway for the shooter and released the description of the possible gunman as being a “white male of medium build with a military style haircut who may be wearing a tactical vest.”
According to The Advocate, Captain Ricky Arnett wrote in a bulletin to officers, “We ask each of you to assist with the apprehension of this shooter. We cannot predict where this person may strike again, if at all he does. Please take time this evening and every evening until this person is apprehended to actively search for this car and suspect.”
Police confirmed to the newspaper that the search was the top priority for the department, but said the details shouldn’t have been made public.
“This is an on going investigation, the details of which we don’t want to get into. It’s kind of irresponsible that The Advocate posted details that we asked that they would not, kind of details in emails between officers in the field,” Police Chief Johnny Dunnam said in a radio interview. “A lot of that information is still preliminary. We aren’t 100% sure on a lot of that information, but it was reported that way.”
According to The Rouge Collection, Dunnam was asked on the Talk 107.3 radio show if he had a message for black residents of the city, and he responded, “If you see anything that suspicious make sure you report it. Call crime stoppers or the homicide. Both killings happened at a certain time of night. They need to be aware of their surrounding and any suspicious people that might pull up and talk to them. Right now it’s still preliminary and we’ve got every man and woman out there looking and searching for this individual.”
3. Gleason, Who Police Say Was Linked to the Shooting by a Car & Shell Casings, Does Not Appear to Have a Criminal Record
Kenneth Gleason does not appear to have a criminal record, according to public records. He was born in Baton Rouge and seems to have lived there his entire life. The 23-year-old does not seem to have a social media presence in his name, but it is not known if he has Facebook, Twitter or other accounts under a different name.
Gleason was linked to the shootings by shell casings and a car, The Associated Press reports.
According to The Advocate, police were looking for a red, four-door “small, older sedan with shiny rims,” that was spotted at both shootings. The gunman was seen on video in the car at one of the scenes, the newspaper reports. According to the AP, a car owned by Gleason matches the description of the one investigators had been searching for.
According to The Advocate, in both shootings, the gunman, dressed in dark clothes and possibly wearing a tactical vest, exited his car and “shot (the victims) to death”with a 9-mm handgun.
4. Marijuana & Human Growth Hormones Were Found at the Baton Rouge Home Where Gleason Lives With His Parents, Police Say
Police from the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office and the Baton Rouge Police Department searched the 5144 Sandy Ridge Drive home where Kenneth Gleason lives Saturday night, WBRZ-TV reports.
Public records show that the home is owned by Gleason’s parents. His mother works at LSU Press, the university’s book publishing arm, according to social media.
Detectives said they found 9 grams of marijuana in a bathroom and testosterone enanthate, known as human growth hormones, in his bedroom, the news station reports. Gleason acknowledged he was the owner of the drugs and does not have a prescription for the HGH, police said. Gleason was taken into custody.
Investigators said he was questioned extensively in connection to the two shootings, but he has not yet been charged with murder.
5. He Is Being Held at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Without Bond on the Drug Charges
Kenneth Gleason is being held without bail at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on the drug charges, online records show. He was booked into the jail on Sunday. It is not clear when he is scheduled to appear in court and The Advocate reports that a bond hearing has not been set.
He was charged with possession of schedule I drugs and possession with intent to distribute schedule III drugs.
It is not clear if Gleason has hired an attorney. He could not be reached for comment. A call to the home where he lives was not answered.